Why does Adult Swim get no respect?
While cartoons from South Park to Adventure Time have both adoring fans and warm reception (deservedly), the non-live-action stuff that airs on actual Cartoon Network, designed for actual adults, or at least night-owl children, is routinely dismissed as cheap marionette skits and stoner humor. And that’s not entirely unfair; much of what comes on CN after 10:00 p.m., known as its Adult Swim programming (“Kids get out the pool!”), truly is uninspired, poorly animated and quick to bloody violence and lame sight gags.
But the absurdism shall set you free. The exceptions (Frisky Dingo, Harvey Birdman) have been piling up so thick (The Venture Brothers, Squidbillies) and for so long (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Sealab 2021), that TV viewer who really wants clever comedies in their quiver would do well to pay attention.
The latest Adult Swim show to announce itself with knee-slapping tumbleweed insanity is a giddy-gross combination of Back to the Future and Ren and Stimpy, among plenty of other juicy sources, called Rick and Morty. The theme song echoes Dr. Who, and this series also features an expert and a less-informed companion traveling to strange, dangerous worlds every week, but “Rick and Morty” deliberately sounds like “Doc and Marty,” doesn’t it?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNYgVQIQUf8
R&M concerns an alcoholic scientist (Doc Brown via Professor Farnsworth with interdimensional travel substituted for journeying through time) and his put-upon, usually terrified grandson. The series was co-created by Adventure Time alum Justin Roiland and Community show runner Dan Harmon, and that’s pretty much all you need to know right there (it certainly explains the Who-vian love).
But where Adventure Time, like SpongeBob SquarePants, has to couch its peril and mature themes in primary color palates and PG-rated frivolity, the faster-paced R&M comes on at 10:30 p.m. on Mondays and knows no such restrictions.
The funniest episode I’ve seen so far, “Meeseeks and Destroy,” opens with Morty, scared out of his wits, having to murder evil clones of his parents and sister, complete with face-melting gore. Later, he’s nearly raped by an anthropomorphic jelly bean (don’t worry, the walking candy gets what’s coming to him). Kid stuff this is not.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naCFGUIc3J8
But, like the previous work of Roiland–who voices both leads–and Harmon, R&M dances to its own internal music, and, like those other great Adult Swim shows, it makes it up as it goes along.
Witness Mr. Meeseeks, a blue, humanoid blob presented by Rick who exists to perform one simple task, and then he explodes/dies in a painless puff of smoke. He greets you with a smile, opens your jar or fixes your dishwasher and then POOF! he’s gone until you press the button for a new one.
Except that in the hands of Jerry, Rick’s son-in-law and Morty’s father, Mr. Meeseeks is given an apparently impossible task–no matter how many of his own kind he brings in as reinforcements in an increasing cascade of nervous, impotent, eager-to-die blue creatures. It’s like a Troy and Abed fever dream.
“Meeseeks usually don’t have to exist for this long,” the haggard original says before things really go off the deep end. “It’s getting weeeeeird.”